Herb: Western Juniper

Latin name: Juniperus occidentalis

Synonyms: Juniperus pyriformis

Family: Cupressaceae (Cypress Family)

Medicinal use of Western Juniper:

Western juniper was quite widely employed as a medicinal herb by a number of native North American tribes who used it to treat a variety of complaints, especially those related to the kidneys and the skin. It is rarely, if at all, used in modern herbalism. The leaves are blood tonic and laxative. A decoction is used in the treatment of constipation, coughs and colds. An infusion of the leaves has been taken by pregnant women prior to giving birth in order to relax the muscles. A poultice of the pounded moistened leaves has been applied to the jaw to treat swollen and sore gums and toothaches. The berries are analgesic, blood tonic and diuretic. A decoction is used to relieve the pain of menstrual cramps and to induce urination. Externally, the decoction is used as a poultice on rheumatic joints. The young twigs are antiseptic, blood tonic and febrifuge. A decoction is used in the treatment of kidney problems, fevers, stomach aches, smallpox, influenza and haemorrhages. The branches have been used in a sweat bath to ease rheumatism. A poultice of the twigs has been used as a dressing on burns and as a drawing agent on boils or splinters. A decoction has been used as an antiseptic wash on sores. The leaves or young twigs have been burnt and the smoke inhaled to ease the pain of headaches.

Description of the plant:


18 m
(59 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Usually found on thin rocky or sandy soils on desert foothills and lower mountains, also on windswept peaks up to elevations of 3,000 metres where they become low gnarled shrubs.

Edible parts of Western Juniper:

Fruit - raw or cooked. A thin dry flesh with a resinous flavour. The fruit is sweet and nutritious, it can also be dried or ground into a powder and mixed with cereal flours to be made into a bread.The cones are about 10mm in diameter, they take 2 years to mature.

Other uses of the herb:

The bark is employed as a tinder and is also made into a slow match. The crushed bark was twisted into a rope, tied at intervals with yucca (Yucca species), and wrapped into a coil. The free end was set on fire and kept smouldering by blowing on it at intervals. Fire could be carried in this fashion for several hours. The bark can be wound around a stick and used as a torch to provide light and carry fire to a new campsite. The bark can be rubbed between the hands until it is soft and the fibres can then be woven into clothing. The bark can also be rolled into rope, coiled and then sown to form sandal shoes. The root fibre is used to make twined baskets. The branches have been burnt as an incense and fumigant in the home. The dried seeds have been used as beads or as the "rattle" in rattles. Wood - very close-grained, light, soft, exceedingly durable. It is easily worked and can be exquisitely finished. Because of its small size, however, it is mainly used for fencing, fuel.

Propagation of Western Juniper:

The seed requires a period of cold stratification. The seed has a hard seedcoat and can be very slow to germinate, requiring a cold period followed by a warm period and then another cold spell, each of 2 - 3 months duration. Soaking the seed for 3 - 6 seconds in boiling water may speed up the germination process. The seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Some might germinate in the following spring, though most will take another year. Another possibility is to harvest the seed "green" (when the embryo has fully formed but before the seedcoat has hardened). The seedlings can be potted up into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow on in pots until large enough, then plant out in early summer. When stored dry, the seed can remain viable for several years. Cuttings of mature wood, 5 - 10cm with a heel, September/October in a cold frame. Plant out in the following autumn. Layering in September/October. Takes 12 months.

Cultivation of the herb:

Usually found on thin rocky or sandy soils on desert foothills and lower mountains, also on windswept peaks up to elevations of 3,000 metres where they become low gnarled shrubs.

Known hazards of Juniperus occidentalis:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.